Bears bow out to Bow; Grainger wraps up 8-year tenure

Hanover High shortstop Jackson McBride, left, tags out Bow's Owen Cray during a rundown in the NHIAA Division III teams' playoff quarterfinal on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. Bow won, 4-3. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover High shortstop Jackson McBride, left, tags out Bow's Owen Cray during a rundown in the NHIAA Division III teams' playoff quarterfinal on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. Bow won, 4-3. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Tris Wykes

Hanover High pitcher Jake Toulmin delivers during his team's 4-3 loss to Bow in the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover High pitcher Jake Toulmin delivers during his team's 4-3 loss to Bow in the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Tris Wykes

Hanover High catcher Hayden Avard blocks a pitch in the dirt during his team's 4-3 loss to Bow during the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. Bow won, 4-3. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover High catcher Hayden Avard blocks a pitch in the dirt during his team's 4-3 loss to Bow during the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. Bow won, 4-3. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Hanover High head baseball coach John Grainger, right, takes notes while talking with assistant Pat McBride during their team's 4-3 loss to Bow during the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover High head baseball coach John Grainger, right, takes notes while talking with assistant Pat McBride during their team's 4-3 loss to Bow during the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Hanover High catcher Hayden Avard makes contact during his team's 4-3 loss to Bow during the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover High catcher Hayden Avard makes contact during his team's 4-3 loss to Bow during the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals on June 1, 2024, in Bow, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-02-2024 7:42 PM

Modified: 06-03-2024 5:34 AM


BOW, N.H. — Hanover High baseball coach John Grainger elected to keep his sunglasses on for a family photo after Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Bow in the NHIAA Division II playoff quarterfinals. There might have been a few tears under the tinted lenses, the ninth-year bench boss allowed.

At Grainger’s hip, his 7-year-old son, Liam, asked a question.

“Are you crying because you’re sad you don’t get to coach anymore?” the boy asked.

“Yes, buddy,” came the answer.

A smartphone shutter clicked. Career over.

Grainger let it be known last week that he wouldn’t be back after the 12th-seeded Bears’ worst regular season since early in his tenure at the school. Hanover paid for those struggles Saturday when, as the road team, it batted first and surrendered a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Fourth-seeded Bow, which trailed, 3-0, entering its fourth at-bat, forged a 3-3 tie during that frame and retired the visitors in order during the top of the seventh inning. No. 9 hitter Sean Nam and leadoff man Sam Loescher struck out and Jackson Lobb grounded out.

Bow’s Chase Crowell, the Falcons’ No. 9 hitter, then singled on an 0-2 count off Hanover pitcher Alex Boone and took second base on an erroneous pickoff throw by catcher Hayden Avard. Leadoff man Owen Webber was intentionally walked and both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch, followed by another intentional walk, this one to Colby Smith.

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Falcons cleanup hitter Jake Reardon wasted no time in the tense situation, knocking the first pitch for a run-scoring single over the head of drawn-in left fielder Will Hopkins. Bow advances to face top-seeded John Stark. The Generals on Saturday escaped eighth-seeded Lebanon, which had the bases loaded with two outs in the top of the seventh but were eliminated by a called third strike.

“We got on the wrong side of a couple of plays, and if even one of them had gone the other way, it could have been a different game,” said Hanover starting pitcher Jake Toulmin, who allowed three hits and two runs, both earned, while striking out five Falcons and walking two during a three-plus inning stint.

Boone, touted by Grainger as a possible college prospect at season’s start, relieved Toulmin. The sophomore allowed five hits and two runs, one of them earned, while striking out one batter and walking three.

The Falcons (14-5) showed bunt so often during their final two at-bats that it became a bit bizarre, but it seemed to make the Bears, Boone included, a bit jittery.

Bow “bunted seven times in their first playoff game and today, every time there was a bunt situation, they bunted,” Grainer said. “They started pulling the bat back, and we couldn’t find the strike zone. A lot of chess play, I guess.”

Grainger said Toulmin threw 48 pitches and Boone 30 during a first-round victory at fifth-seeded Plymouth and that the latter was battling an oblique muscle injury.

“Jake usually bounces back well, but he just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank,” the coach said of his senior left-hander. “His arm was tired.”

Toulmin surrendered a walk and back-to-back singles during the fourth inning. Boone induced a quick two outs, the second on a sacrifice fly, but then allowed two singles and faced a tie game.

Hanover scored its first run during its initial at-bat, Jackson McBride singling and JoJo Drent doubling with two outs.

The Bears earned their final two runs during the fourth inning. Drent drew a walk and Hopkins reached base when Bow pitcher Sean Guerrette, the division’s pitcher of the year, threw wildly to first after fielding a grounder.

A wild pitch moved both runners up a base, and ground-outs by Toulmin and Avard brought them home.

Grainger, who has four children and two dogs, said he’s stepping down primarily to spend more time with his brood. However, he noted that, as a self-employed building contractor, he takes a massive pay cut each hour that he’s coaching instead of remodeling bathrooms or painting walls.

“He’s a great, tough-love coach who always pushed me to be better, and it’s hard to come up with all the words about him that I want to say right now,” Toulmin said, taking a long moment to compose himself before answering a question about his mentor.

Grainger was also a bit emotional. A former All-American catcher at Keene State, he’s coached nonstop since earning his master’s degree from the University of Utah in 2007, including stops at Colby-Sawyer College and with the Lebanon American Legion Post 22 organization.

Grainger became only the second Hanover baseball coach in 26 years when he was hired as a 31 year old in 2016 and inherited a program that had gone 6-11 the previous season. He steered it through a 3-14 campaign his first spring and had his team in the division semifinals by 2018. The Bears also reached that round in 2022.

“We had high expectations this year, and I wouldn’t have believed we’d finish 9-9,” said Grainger, who exits with an 80-56 high school record and whose 2024 team batted a collective 80 points lower than its predecessor.

“I expected us to grow and hit better off last year’s numbers, but I think this team’s going to be really good the next two years.” ​​​​​​

Notes: Grainger said he’s extremely proud of helping to get Hanover’s home field completely remodeled for this season. Securing town approval, fundraising and overseeing add-ons such as extra fencing and bullpen pitching mounds ate up considerable time and effort. … Toulmin picked off his 13th and 14th runners of the season. He picked off four against Milford on May 17. He plans to matriculate at North Carolina’s Elon College. … Baseball is one of the only teams at Hanover to have never won a state title. It last reached the final in 2005. … Grainger, a Wilder resident, is an assistant coach for his older son’s Hartford summer team, which he said has a good shot at advancing to regional competition in a few months.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.